Picturesque New Guinea/Chapter 9
Bertha Lagoon—Garihi—Ascent of the Peak—East shores of the Lagoon—Under weigh—The Brumer Group—Rendezvous at Dinner Island—Murder of Captain Miller—Investigations at Teste Islands.
EAVING our grass cutting party, Mr. Bubb (my assistant) and myself, accompanied by Mr. Smart, our third engineer, wended our way to Garihi, a village facing the straits, from which our vessel lying at anchor was visible in the distance. We took the precaution to carry arms, but had no occasion to handle them, as the villagers received us literally with open arms, less, perhaps, out of feelings of platonic affection, than from ulterior views relative to tobacco. Our guides took us to the centre of the village, where a space about ten feet in diameter was rudely flagged with stones from the beach. Round the outside of this pavement large flat stones were set on edge in the ground at an angle like the backs of chairs. We were invited to be seated, and the chiefs and headmen of the place were presented to us. I gave the old warriors a few sticks of tobacco each, and to the women and children a dozen or two tin plates ornamented with stamped letters, and a kangaroo in the centre. These gifts were much appreciated, and yams, sweet potatoes and cocoa-nuts were heaped up in front of us as return presents. We then had a smoke, and Mr. Smart, by some conjuring tricks, in which he was an adept, first terrified, and then diverted the simple-minded natives. The wind being too high for photographing, we inspected some of the
THE CHIEF'S SPIRE HOUSE AT KALO (IN COURSE OF RECONSTRUCTION).
Reference page 67.
MOURNERS AND DEAD HOUSE AT KALO.
Reference page 68.
thickly populated, and up the rugged slopes of the Cloudy Mountains we saw many columns of smoke, indicating the presence of man. We visited some half dozen villages, rowing across the lagoon several times, and the day being warm drank sufficient cocoa-nut milk to float a ship. The huts, generally speaking, had an appearance of age, a sign in itself of peace prevailing among the various tribes. We got back to the ship at 10.30, and breakfasted before getting under way.
It appears that we have a rendezvous at Dinner Island with several men-of-war, to inquire into and possibly punish the murder of Captain(?) Fryer, at Hoop Iron Bay, Moresby Island. Leaving the Straits by the way we entered them, and passing Wedge Rock on the port side, we sighted Tassai, the village on Brumer Island. This group comprises one larger and one smaller island, with two or three lesser islets. To the south-east, when abreast of the passage between the two first mentioned of the Brumer group, Dumoulin Island, distant twenty-five miles, becomes visible due east, Castori and Arch Islands, about twenty miles away, are seen east-north-cast, and Heath Island, towards which we are heading, shows its high peak eighteen miles to the north-east. The double island named Leocadi, with the sea breaking over the connecting reef, is visible five miles off on the port quarter with its solitary lighthouse looking tree. Shaping our course through the inner passage between Heath Island and the mainland of New Guinea, and carefully navigating the strong tide-rips that run through it, we sighted Dinner Island at 2.20 and dropped anchor 200 yards from the beach half-an-hour later. We are now in China Straits, and the wonderful beauty of the island scenery surrounding us has not been overrated. Dinner Island itself is not more than 200 feet high at any point, but is a paradise of loveliness. To our right, in the south-west, tower the ranges of Heath Island, 1,000 feet high. Three or four miles in the opposite direction are the mountains of Hayter Island; towards the east the hill chains of Basilisk and Moresby Island loom in the hazy distance, and behind us towards the north the lofty ranges of the mainland, wooded from base to summit, rise abruptly from the shore. On reaching the anchorage at Dinner Island we found ourselves the first at the rendezvous. The Mission Boat came out to us bringing the unwelcome news of fresh outrages. It appears that Captain Miller, well known in Cooktown, had lately come to these parts and commenced trading in bêche-de-mer and copra. He had built a store and temporary dwelling on an islet called Koilao, separated from Heath Island by a channel, quarter of a mile wide and not three miles from Dinner Island. With some mates he established several trading stations among the islands of this Archipelego; as matters were apparently prospering he determined to build a better house on the Island of Digaragara, opposite Normanby Island, which contains plenty of timber suitable for the purpose. Accordingly he proceeded there in his cutter, taking with him as crew an Italian named Paolo Fidele, a Chinese cook, an Australian aboriginal and his gin, and a native named Bonita. The party, according to Paolo's account, were seated on the beach among a number of natives, talking matters over in a friendly way, when a Normanby islander, a boy returned from Queensland, came up behind and struck Miller a blow on the back of the neck with a tomahawk. Paolo saw the native coming, but too late to put Miller on his guard, and before he could interfere another native cut the unfortunate man's throat with a long knife. No general massacre was attempted, and Miller was just able to walk to the boat when he expired from loss of blood. Paolo states that he fired at the first aggressor but apparently without effect. The cutter then put off and made for Milne Bay, where Miller had a branch store, to warn a young Englishman named Cotterill and a Chinaman in charge of their danger. They brought Cotterill off with them, but the Chinaman could not be induced to leave. The cutter then proceeded to Dinner Island, where Miller's body was decently interred near the Mission Station, and the party being apprehensive that their lives were still in danger left on the morning of our arrival for Teste Island, where the natives are known to be friendly.
The "Diamond" not having yet arrived, the General decided to proceed next day to Teste Island to collect evidence for the identification and punishment of the murderers. We accordingly started at 7 a.m. on the 8th October, weather showery and cool, wind south-west and sea smooth. An hour later we passed Blanchard Island and noticed a small island near its eastern extremity, covered with beautiful grassy slopes and having a cocoa-nut grove at the end opposite Blanchard, while at its eastern extremity gigantic Casuarina trees reared their feathery branches against the sky. At 8.30 we passed Beehive Island, and sighted Bell Rock and Teste Island. Hayter and Moresby Islands were on our port side, with heavy clouds hanging on their mountain tops. At 9 o'clock we opened up the entrance to Fortescue Straits formed by Margaret and O'Neil Islands, and separating Basilisk from Moresby Island. We next passed Hoop Iron Bay, where Captain Fryer was so recently murdered. A cutter which we sighted and supposed to be the craft we were in pursuit of turned out, on closer acquaintance, to be a rock which bore a singular resemblance to a boat, the illusion being heightened by a solitary tree growing on its side, which looked from the distance like a flag. The name of this curious island is marked in the chart as "Foolscap Rock." Teste Island, with Bell Rock quarter point to the westward, lay seven miles ahead, and at 11 o'clock we dropped anchor midway between the land and a huge boulder called Boat Rock. The tides here are very strong, and the under current is so swift that a sinker weighing over two pounds attached to a fishing line would not fetch the bottom. On landing we found two cutters, belonging to the unfortunate Captains Miller and Fryer, the former of which had arrived the day previous with Paolo Fidele and the rest of the party. A neatly built house, with the Union Jack flying from a pole, stood near the beach, and I was surprised to find in the proprietor a young man named Kissack, a photographer, formerly owning a studio in Victoria Street, Hotham, a Melbourne suburb. He told me that the doctors advised him to give up photography as the worry connected with that profession was sure to kill him. So after a spell in a Queensland labour ship as Government Agent, he settled down on Teste Island as a trader, making a tolerably good living by entrusting trade articles to the Teste Island boys, who barter them in the Louisiade Islands and bring back cocoa nuts and bêche-de-mer in return for tobacco, pipes, and knives, the market quotations at that time being twenty-eight old cocoa-nuts for one stick of tobacco. By the time the fruit is husked, sliced and dried, and bagged, and the freight paid to Queensland, the profit has dwindled to a very modest sum, and I could not but reflect that with the risk thrown in of being murdered on the slightest provocation the traders deserve all they can make. Meantime the General had been pursuing his inquiries at the Mission House, the result being that Paolo Fidele and his mates are to return with their cutter to Dinner Island, proceed with us to the scene of the outrage and identify the perpetrators if possible.
VILLAGE SCENE AT KALO, WITH TEACHER AND CHRISTIAN CHURCH.
Reference page 68.